It’s officially been a month since I got home from London. Landing back in San Diego was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever experienced. After being away on a crazy adventure in a foreign country for almost four months, in just eleven hours I was back, and driving out of the San Diego airport. Nothing seemed to have changed at home; everything was pretty much exactly as I left it on August 27th. When I walked off the plane on December 15th, the only thing that had really changed was me.
It is almost impossible for me to explain my experience abroad to anyone that wasn’t there. Coming back home, and now being back up at school, I’ve answered the question “How was London?” more times than I can count. You would think that I would have a good answer to that question by now, but the best I can seem to come up with is, “it was friggin awesome.” Then people usually ask what I did while I was abroad. And I can list off the places I travelled to, and some of the sights I saw, but that all seems insignificant to me. Having been through those four months, I know that every single day was packed with new experiences and adventures. I had this mentality while I was there that I had to make every second count, because I knew I had this insane, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of me. But it wasn’t necessarily the things that I did that mattered. Granted, I am obsessed with London, so almost every outing I had was pretty amazing in my eyes. But when I look back over all of my adventures, the importance lies less in the actual activities, and more in how those excursions slowly changed and shaped me, and in the things I learned along the way.
First of all, there was something about being in a big, vibrant city full of history and culture that was invigorating. I have always enjoyed learning, but I found myself wanting to know things about London. The city wasn’t just a bunch of tourist sites to me; instead, it was my home for the next few months, and it had a lot of stories to tell besides just mine. I wanted to know as many of those stories as possible. There were stories of kings and queens, of artists and architects, of conflicts and wars. There were fake stories, like Harry Potter and Love Actually. And then there was my parents’ story. And the whole time I was there, I was just as excited about exploring history as I was about creating my own new story. Mostly, I was just excited about everything.
Second of all, the fact that I was alone and on my own adventure was incredible. When I left my mom and my sister at the airport in San Diego, I felt a very real sense of being alone. Not lonely, but alone. From that point forward, I got to call the shots. I got to plan out my time, and decide what I wanted to do with my days in London. I didn’t have to worry about anyone but myself, and that might sound selfish, but there are very few times in life when the only person we have to worry about is ourselves. I found a sense of strength in the amount of independence I had while abroad. Honestly, I was proud of myself, because I remembered how much fear used to run my life. I remembered being seventeen, and petrified of leaving for college and being utterly alone. What I didn’t realize at the time was that just three years later I would find a huge amount of joy in being alone. I learned that there is a big difference between being lonely and alone, and that while being lonely drains me of happiness and strength, my time alone, especially while I was abroad, filled me up with confidence and joy.
When I describe my experience abroad, I usually separate it into two sections. The first half, I felt like I fully embraced being on my own and I was more independent than I have ever been in my life. The second half, while still full of adventures, was more about learning to be dependent and to trust people. I experienced people being good. When you walk around a big city all day, you can see a lot of examples of humanity at its worst. But while I was in London, there were people in my life that showed examples of humanity at its best; people that went out of their way to be supportive and kind in a way that I found very powerful. I found people that I cared about, and learned to trust them. I learned not to fear building meaningful relationships, even though I knew I was only there for a few months. I learned how to open my heart up, and how to fall. I left London with a relationship that has brought more joy and happiness to my life than I could have imagined.
Finally, I learned that nothing is perfect. There are bumps in the road that you can’t see coming. But the bumps that I encountered while I was abroad didn’t take away from my experience. Instead, they made me stronger. I wouldn’t change a second of my time in London, because I found something positive in all of it. I wouldn’t take away the tough days, because I learned how to be okay with feeling the pain or the frustration that those days brought, but also how to let it go and not let those feelings get in the way of enjoying the good things that were all around me.
So I guess it would be more appropriate to say that I found that nothing is perfect in the conventional sense of the word, where nothing difficult happens or where you are blissfully happy all the time. Because to me, my time in London was perfect, even with the little bumps along the way. I wouldn’t change one second of my experience, because ultimately I am a happier and stronger person for all of it.
Another thing that I get asked a lot is what it’s like to be back in SLO. I thought I would have a hard time readjusting, and in some ways I have. I miss London a lot, and the people that I came to care about there. But those people aren’t going anywhere; they are still part of my life. And if I’m lucky enough, I might go back to live in London for a while after I graduate. So for now, I am left with over a thousand photos, a constant stream of vivid memories that play over and over in my mind, a wonderful relationship, and the ways that my time in London made me a stronger, happier person. And that is not something that I am sad about. Instead, I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a fantastic adventure, and I can’t wait to see what other adventures life has just around the corner.